In the 7 1/2 years since I took the helm of Jackson County CASA — Court Appointed Special Advocates — I have seen the best and the worst of humanity.
At CASA, it is our mission to recruit, train and support lay volunteers to advocate for the best interests of abused and neglected children in our community. We have two goals: to secure a safe, permanent home for the child, and to advocate for appropriate medical, educational and therapeutic resources while the child is under court protection.
Since I joined CASA, we have served thousands of children and teens. We have seen young victims under the most horrific conditions — children with visible bruises on their faces; children with burn scars on their bodies so deep they will never fade; children who have been sexually abused by relatives in appalling ways; children without beds, without shoes, without food.
We work with teens every day who have been in the child welfare system for five years, 10 years, 13 years. These are teens whose biological parents never completed the steps for reunification, teens for whom no appropriate relative placement was ever found, teens no one stepped up to adopt. Most of these teens will “age out,” which means they will be released as independent adults with no family support and no designated adult to help them with the tough work of everyday living.
The tragedies we see unfolding every day at Jackson County CASA would break your heart.
But I have also seen the very best in our community. Hundreds of dedicated CASA volunteers, who freely offer up their time and their wisdom to advocate for the best interests of these children. Dedicated staff members who work with passion and love to see that every child we represent has the very best chance for a safe, meaningful life. Heroic foster parents who care for our community’s children as if they were their own. Committed community partners and nonprofit agencies that provide effective, efficient services to child victims of abuse and neglect.
And making it all possible, the generous individual, corporate and foundation funders who reach deep to give as much as they can to help these children.
Through the efforts of our generous community, and the hard work of our CASA staff and volunteers, more children in our metro area find safe, permanent homes and receive the help they desperately need.
As I prepare to retire from my work here at Jackson County CASA, and prepare for one final Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Month this April, it is the goodness that gives me hope. As each of us finds our own path — volunteering, working with passion, fostering or giving as generously as we can — I believe together we will tackle the evil of child abuse and neglect and provide meaningful help for our communities’ most vulnerable children.
Martha Gershun has been the executive director of Jackson County CASA since December 2009. She will retire May 1.